USAF receives final ‘Zombie Viper’ from Boeing

Personnel from the US Defense Contract Management Agency’s (DCMA’s) Aircraft Integrated Maintenance Operations (AIMO) St Augustine have celebrated a major milestone following the delivery of the final QF-16 ‘Zombie Viper’ Full Scale Aerial Target (FSAT) from Boeing’s facility at Cecil Airport in Jacksonville, Florida.

Delivery of the final QF-16 to come from Boeing’s QF-16 modification line at Cecil Airport was announced by the US Air Force (USAF) on August 16, but the actual handover occurred on July 29. This recent delivery marks the conclusion of Boeing’s QF-16 modification line, ending a decade’s worth of work on the FSAT programme in Jacksonville. A second QF-16 modification line – located with the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (AFB) in Arizona – will continue to produce the remaining QF-16s under the ongoing procurement contract.

Personnel from the US DCMA's AIMO St Augustine pose in front of the last QF-16 'Zombie Viper' to be delivered from Boeing's modification line at Cecil Airport in Jacksonville, Florida, on July 29, 2022.
Personnel from the US DCMA's AIMO St Augustine pose in front of the last QF-16 'Zombie Viper' to be delivered from Boeing's modification line at Cecil Airport in Jacksonville, Florida, on July 29, 2022. Boeing

Following its delivery to AIMO St Augustine in late July, the QF-16 was subsequently handed over to the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron (ATRS), a component of the 53rd Wing’s 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group at Tyndall AFB, Florida. With a lifespan of approximately 300 flying hours per airframe, the USAF’s growing fleet of QF-16 FSAT aircraft replaced the air arm’s optionally piloted QF-4 Phantom IIs in operational service in 2016.

US Navy CMDR Gabriel Hohner, commander of DCMA AIMO St Augustine, said: “The QF-16 provides a crucial capability to both the Air Force and Navy in the development of next-generation weapon systems. I am proud of the partnership DCMA has had with Boeing here to deliver this capability.”

The optionally piloted, reusable QF-16 FSAT aircraft are modified from already retired legacy F-16 Fighting Falcons, which have been kept in long-term storage. Following modification, the QF-16 standard aircraft can be flown by either a pilot or via remote control by ground operators and technicians who monitor the aircraft’s performance. In USAF service, the QF-16 is used to support a variety of missions, including the testing of newly developed weapons systems; air-to-air live-fire training; ground-to-air live-fire testing. The aircraft is capable of conducting automatic take-offs and landings, as well as flying at supersonic speeds, while operating in uncrewed conditions.